Documentation:Introduction to Online Teaching/Learning Module

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Online teaching is not that different to teaching in a face-to-face environment. You as the instructor are still teaching students with different learning styles and developing a learning community. Online teaching simply uses different tools and approaches to reach the learning objectives.

Online learning, sometimes called eLearning, generally refers to computer-enhanced learning that makes use of Internet-mediated communications (nowadays, usually the Worldwide Web). While it is commonly associated with the emergence of Information and Communication Technologies, online learning is also used to refer to the professional field in which educators plan and design course materials, learning activities, approaches to assessment and teaching strategies that are appropriate for a virtual learning environment.

The social context of learning is crucial to the success of online teaching; and research has demonstrated that participation in learning communities enriches the learning experience and contributes to learner motivation and engagement. Teaching and learning in an online environment can offer a wider mix of interpersonal and cross-cultural encounters, over a shorter time span, and at lower cost, than can be offered by ‘traditional’ face-to-face learning environments – giving more learners more access to powerful intercultural international learning opportunities (Macfadyen, 2004)

Learning Objectives

This module introduces the concepts of online teaching and learning, briefly discusses its history and growth, and describes some of the demonstrated benefits of online learning for promoting reflection and collaboration on a flexible schedule.

These objectives are at the level of beginning exploration.

At the end of this module, participants will be able to:

  • describe some of the different technologies used to support online learning and teaching
  • compare benefits and limitations of synchronous vs. asynchronous tools
  • develop learning activities that use different technologies that encourage student engagement


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All of this Chapter is valuable, but you should focus your reading on pages 3-5 and 18-25. We also encourage you to pursue further reading via the hyperlinked websites in this module, especially for topics that are unfamiliar to you.


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Listen to Richard Millwood (University of Bolton) and Mark Brown (Director of Distance Education at Massey University in New Zealand) as they reflect on the core competencies required for online educators. They highlight communication, student engagement and pedagogical philosophy as key considerations in preparing to teach online. Time: 3:06 minutes

More video from: COTS Competencies for Online Teaching Success World Campus Penn State PSU Faculty Development

Watch this movie from The CommonCraft Show about Wiki's in Plain English. Consider how group projects and collaborative work could be done using this type of technology; check out the section below for an example of a UBC professor doing just that. Time: 3:52 minutes


Circle open book.gif

All of this Chapter is valuable, but you should focus your reading on pages 3-5 and 18-25. We also encourage you to pursue further reading via the hyperlinked websites in this module, especially for topics that are unfamiliar to you.

Does Online Learning Work?

More than a decade of intensive research has convincingly demonstrated that the Web is an effective medium for teaching, with student learning outcomes and student satisfaction at least as good as those for classroom-based students (See, for example, Gerhing, 1994 ; Golberg, 1997 ; McCollum, 1997 ; and the No Significant Difference website). Many Colleges and Universities now offer Internet-based educational opportunities, and learner registration in online learning courses and programs has increased exponentially through the 1990s and into the new millennium. Online education has become the leading modality for distance education, and academic leadership expects online enrollment to grow as much as 25% per year ( Sloan Consortium, 2007)

Even more significantly, experience and research have shown that design plays a critical role in the success of online courses and programs. “Online courses” which ask learners to read pages of text and compete automated quizzes or rote tasks are doomed to failure. It is impossible to establish effective virtual learning environments by trying to create ‘virtual versions’ of materials, activities and teaching strategies that we know to be successful in a traditional classroom. Learners may also find that the ‘learning strategies’ they have used successfully in face-to-face classrooms don’t ‘work’ online.

Cyberspace is indeed a ‘new world’. Successful teaching and good learning in this new virtual world call for careful redesign of courses, and new approaches to teaching and learning.

What is a LMS?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is an online software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting. It offers a collection of tools such as those for assessment, communication, peer assessment, group activities, grading, tracking tools, etc.

Connect is the Course Management System being used at UBC.

Tools of Online Learning

Synchronous and Asynchronous Tools

Many different technologies (sometimes called ‘educational technologies’ or ‘learning technologies’) are used to support online learning. These tools can be divided into two groups, synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous tools allow live interaction - learners exchange ideas and information with other participants simutaneously, such as a ‘live’ online chat session or a web-conferenced meeting.

Examples of current synchronous communication tools include:

  • Windows Messenger [1] (also known as MSN) is an instant messaging client created by Microsoft
  • iChat is an instant messaging client created by Apple
  • Skype is software that allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet, other features include instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing.
  • Microsoft NetMeeting is a videoconferencing client included in many versions of Microsoft Windows
  • WebCT Vista Chat Tool
  • Connect
  • Wimba Classroom or Live Classroom at UBC
  • uStream TV is a website made up of a network of diverse channels that provide a platform for lifecasting and live video streaming of events online

These tools simulate group discussions but some limitations are that ‘text chat’ sessions can be difficult to follow, equipment to support high quality video or web-conferencing is extremely expensive, finding a good time to ‘meet’ can be a challenge due to multiple time zones, and synchronous learning activities reduce flexibility of access for busy learners.

Asynchronous tools allow participants with very different schedules, and in different time zones, to work together online, at their own pace.

Examples of current asynchronous communication tools include:

By ‘slowing down’ communications, asynchronous tools level the playing field for learners working in a second language. Many studies have also reported that learners who are typically reserved or shy in face-to-face classrooms feel motivated and encourage to participate in asynchronous discussion forums – asynchronous forums reduce the likelihood that conversation will be dominated by only the ‘loudest voices’.

Importantly, by giving participants time to reflect on each others writing, and to carefully draft and edit their own replies, asynchronous technologies powerfully support the kind of collaborative critical reflection that motivates participation and promotes meaningful learning and transformation of perspective.

Examples: In Practice

This is a University of British Columbia course developed entirely using a wiki WikiProject Murder Madness and Mayhem

Here are examples of courses using blogs at UBC:

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